Gustavus Cornwall right): accused of homosexuality in Victorian Dublin
Eminent Victorian figure with Irish connections accused of homosexuality; sues for libel and loses.
A criminal prosecution ensues.
No, not Oscar Wilde, silly.
Gustavus Cornwall, head of the Dublin Post Office, was accused in Parliament by MP William Smith O’Brien of engaging in frolics with other men in the hothouses of the Botanic Gardens, Dublin, and at musical dinner parties in Raglan Road [Ballsbridge, Dublin 4].
His co-accused were Captain Martin Oranmore Kirwan, known as ‘Lizzie’ and Malcom Johnston, known as the ‘Maid of Athens’, after the poem by Lord Byron: “Maid of Athens, ere we part, give o give me back my heart’. Mr Cornwall himself was known as ‘the Duchess’.
William O’Brien was protected by parliamentary privilege; however, when he repeated the allegations in his journal United Ireland, the Duchess sued for libel.
The jury found against him after a number of men came forward to testify in support of Mr O’Brien’s allegations.
Like Wilde, not one, but two, criminal prosecutions subsequently ensued, but a sympathetic judge at the later trial not only encouraged the jury to find against Mr Cornwall, but also recommended that the press exercise their ‘discretion and Christian forbearance’ against publication, allowing Gustavus, unlike Oscar, to retain his reputation.
He was ultimately acquitted on the merciful, if unimaginative, testimony of three doctors that it was physically impossible to commit sodomy within the confines of a hansom cab.
Gustavus photo via National Portrait Gallery, London